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Bonus OKC Central Live Chat

A lot of questions didn't make the cut during Friday's chat due to glitches that caused a very slow processing of the answers I was typing. So I saved the unanswered questions and the best of them are being answered in this bonus chat transcript:

Q: Will the retail along park in the First National Center and garage have doors that face the street or will it be an inside mall like it was before? I think it's a no brainer to have each store have its own door to the street but what do I know.

A: You know quite a bit. And yes, the retail will face the street with openings to Park Avenue and likely even some patio dining.

Q: I know it's outside your scope, but what's your gut instinct on Westbrook? Will he stay, or will he leave?

A: I’d say the addition of Paul George, even for one year, gives Westbrook reason to stay, recruit PG 13 to stick with him, and get revenge against a certain cupcake and groin kicker.

Q: What could be done to get more trees planted throughout Oklahoma City? Could a tree-planting initiative be a part of a GO bond?

A: Yes. I visited with City Manager Jim Couch the other day and the city has already changed its approach to future design of its streets. Expect to see more trees, lighting, sidewalks and bike trails. But should this go even further? Could the city team up with the Oklahoma Tree Bank to designate certain streets as green corridors to create the sort of standards we see far more often in Edmond? Yes.

Q: Not a political question--a civic question. Overall, how would you grade Mick Cornett's long stint as OKC mayor (from A+ to F)?

A: I’ll take the safe approach here and rank the last three mayors I have known personally and observed. Ron Norick: A plus. Kirk Humphreys: A minus. Mick Cornett: A minus. Not a bad run for Oklahoma City. As an aside, looking back, I am far less impressed by the run of Patience Latting back in the 1970s than what was expressed at the time by her contemporaries. Andy Coats faced overwhelming odds serving during the oil bust and really can’t be graded – but overall I think he worked very hard to find a way to steady our city and move forward.

Q: What do you think is going to be the best use for the Spaghetti Warehouse? I was hoping for apartments, but it appears we're getting offices or a hotel.

A: Offices are a bad idea – we have too much vacant space, especially in Bricktown. I am convinced apartments are likely not a great option either simply due to cost and the lack of nearby secured parking. A boutique hotel sounds about right, but any buyer and developer must realize it is highly unlikely they will get tax increment financing for a hotel in a district that is set to have 23 hotels, all done without TIF.

Q: What is the best and future use of the Parkside Building (formerly the Sandridge Amenities building), and are these two the same? It is a shame that such an interesting building in an excellent location is sitting empty for so long.

A: Something needs to happen, but SandRidge appears to be in no hurry to clarify what that might be. The building is no longer for sale and no use has been announced. It just sits there. This is one I’d love to see converted into apartments with it overlooking Kerr Park. But where would the tenants park? It would make a great corporate headquarters, but again, SandRidge owns and controls the nearby parking structures. As part of SandRidge as originally envisioned, the parking situation for the 120 Robert S. Kerr building wasn’t a problem.

Q: What seems to be missing from Film Row is a lack of sufficient housing to keep it vibrant in the evenings. Is something being done about that?

A: Give it time. We are about to see a lot of housing opening up around 21c Museum Hotel with construction well underway on the West Village development.

Q: Wheeler Park seems to be off to a slower start than what I think most thought it would be. Everything okay there?

A: Yep. Financing is in place, final engineering is underway to start work on streets, drainage and other infrastructure.

Q: What goes into downtown design review? Know this might be a somewhat controversial topic, but I think we don't have a "feel/style" to the city. A lot of things seem very mismatched in terms of design, unlike other cities.

A: Look for an upcoming OKC Central column on this topic.

Q: What are your thoughts on The Oklahoman's multi-part series on the county jail? What is your recommended solution?

A: My thoughts are I hope and pray the business model for local journalism is made clear soon because investigations like this are critical to our communities. This work isn’t being done by television stations, radio or blogs. The public is left blind and unable to understand what is needing to be fixed without thoughtful, in-depth and researched local journalism being done by professional reporters. Something must change. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a community. We are running a debtors prison filled with the poor and those struggling with additional and mental health issues.

I am not convinced former Sheriff John Whetsel was focused on the jail as much as he was on trying to become the dominant law enforcement presence for the entire county by duplicating traffic enforcement in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Midwest City and loading up on expensive equipment and a large fleet of cars. Nepotism and the hiring of friends was rampant. An audit revealed millions in missing inventory and cars.

So I’m skeptical about whatever was said about the feasibility of renovating the existing jail. Build a mental health center to operate as an alternative to putting folks in jail. Continue to look for ways to quit locking people up over lack of money to pay fines, bail, etc. Get the population down and retrofit the jail floor by floor. Look at using the former Oklahoma City Jail/original headquarters across the street as an alternative for those with addiction and mental health issues.

Reader comment: Steve, I am at a complete loss when it comes to some people and their thoughts about MAPS. I think it's quite interesting that such a positive and progressive initiative as MAPS STILL has people questioning it's worth. In the early 90's, I understand people's hesitation about a ballpark, a canal (a what?!?), filling the river, an arena, but LOOK AT WHAT MAPS HAS DONE! And now, people are STILL questioning it's value. I DO understand that some people do not venture into downtown or Bricktown or Auto Alley or Midtown or only visit one place or stay in their "bubble", but to them I say GET OUT and see what's going on! I have a friend who just visited from being gone from OKC for years and she was dumbfounded at the change. I WANT people to question design and process of approved projects, but for those people who say - I NEVER see anyone using parks, or bike paths or buses and therefore, they are useless, well, those people just plain irk me. Get out and SEE your city! Take advantage of the amazing things we have here! Go to Riversport, go white water rafting, go to the Wheeler District, take a pic in front of the "OKC", take a ride on a Spookie and just explore. The Water Taxis have been around for 17 years - when was the last time some (most?) of the locals went on a ride? For those who say, OKC is a nice place to raise a family, but there is nothing really to do - I challenge you to get out this weekend and see if that is really true. This City is for EVERYONE. Thanks for lending an ear.

Q: Good morning, Steve. I know you've stated multiple times that Jonathan Russell's/Land Run's high-rise project at 4th and EK Gaylord is going to be a slow affair. But do you know if prospects are looking good for that project to actually happen? When would work actually start?

A: At this point I just can’t answer either way. We should know more in 2018.

Q: When can we anticipate closing on the Co-Op sale to Funk's group?

A: Never. I reported last month the deal fell through.

Reader comment: Key to focus on re John Rex: It may be a charter, but it is a public one. Public charters = typically successful; private charters = failures.

Reader comment: There is NO bicycle parking in the farmers market district other than at Anthem. Just a very much needed FYI.

Q: You mentioned the possibility of expanding the streetcar to the JFK neighborhood. JFK has a very suburban feel and most houses have at least one car. It doesn't seem to me to be a neighborhood that would utilize the streetcar. It seems like most of the patrons of the buses that run on 4th street are coming from the North of JFK. Would it not be better to run the streetcar through the health science center and up Lincoln to the Capitol? Possibly through Culberson Heights?

A: I’m not sure I understand the logic here. Capitol Hill has a lot of houses with garages and driveways as well but can anyone dispute the need for public transit in Capitol Hill? John F. Kennedy is a very mixed neighborhood that yes has several dozen new homes but also a lot of older homes with working class folks struggling to make ends meet.

Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›